Dear Internet, How Do Boys Work?

Working subtitle: “Why it’s hard not to be bitter about everything that’s ever happened to you.” Lately I’ve tried to mediate nighttime stomachaches with small doses of nostalgia, which has resulted in this fairly lengthy explanation on all the boys I have crushed on and later failed to seduce, accompanied by the same picture of an adelie penguin, repeatedly.

Here it is.

I love boys! They’re great. I’d like to have one or ten of my own someday, but they’re always sold out on Amazon and, perhaps more pertinently, boys do not love me, nor do they think I am great, because I am “intimidating” or “”””not very outgoing”””” or “”””””ugly””””””.

Here’s what went wrong, I think: from ages ten to sixteen-abouts a large chunk of the adolescent identity is complacent enough to adjust according to your semi-annual crush’s interests, a strategy that while impossible is not entirely misguided. “Dude, he may be the top football athlete, but his girlfriend’s huge on desktop publishing!” said no American teenager ever. (Yes, that was my hobby! Single men, you may start lining up at the end of this post.)

This list of course does not include the many college age theatre bAbEs my friends and I, anywhere from five to ten years their junior, secretly pined for. The names here have not (yet?) been changed so that these people can assuredly list me as a reference under the mere title “not my girlfriend.” I’ll try to describe them in a way that does their lovely selves justice.

✽ ✽ ✽

Jack was like a pale, wanton, actually-white Michael Jackson. Though he’s since cut his inexplicably long brown hair his smile betrays a suction cup at each cheek, giving his face an upside-down pear quality. He’s got understated eyebrows and dark eyes, panel wood brown or black if you don’t look closely enough.

Let’s paint a portrait of sixth grade me. The descriptor “stringy” comes to mind. I was tall, which was a bad thing — show choir moms extol how positively model-like you are, while boys your age need to stand on an upturned crate to have a conversation with you — dirty dishrag blonde, had approximately 0.01 breasts on site and the latter of those two general tweenage body types, cross country skeleton and penguin fat. Jack was the former, a runner and a soccer player, but most importantly the most coveted member of our six-person band of sub-average Naruto fans. We had an interesting lunch table dynamic; my gal pals and I were giddy losers, and way in over our heads. Over two of us, which is to say all three of us, had a crush at some point and to some capacity on Jack, who was not actually friends with us but joined our table for lunch out of some noblesse oblige or at least fealty to our mutual friend Dan.

As with the start of every new school year, the times were exciting. Potential mates were just ripe for the picking. The very air was ionized! After all, back then each early autumn meant another crack at the popularity formula. The popularity formula, I was convinced, was a combination of athletic ability (!) and the right kind of school supplies. Everything has to match; it must be mature, but also feminine; it– oops, Lisa Frank and rainbow tie-dye.

Does a formulaic method to “hack” middle school popularity actually exist? If it does, I don’t know what it is. I know I never attained it. I know that my mom had a better grasp of it than I did. And I know that it’s not a keen interest in desktop publishing.

After all, my conception of the formula was clearly skewed towards personal bias. Using makeup meant you were cheating, and personal style — clothing, hair — compared to cute school supplies was secondary. This is obviously a defense mechanism for people like me with hair texture that could be described with a confusing legal metaphor. Double jeopardy.

Style is what I lacked and needed then since, popular or not — very not — I planned to ask Jack to dance at the Halloween uh, dance. “He’ll totally say yes!” assured Dan. For most people, the logical choice of weaponry here would be a sexy Halloween costume. Sexy mermaid! Sexy ring leader! Sexy filibuster! Sexy gumball! The possibilities were endless.

In I strutted through the double doors, brushing blue and white streamers out of my much-too-elevated face, dressed as Mr. Peanut. Not sexy Mr. Peanut, mind you, but the regular kind. There was a top hat and shiny slip-on peanut suit that you could tuck your head into to look just like the real Mr. Peanut, only with a crop of stringy, dirty dishrag blonde hair poking out. Hey! Don’t laugh! It’s cool! My grandma later borrowed it and won in a costume contest!

Usually I don’t tell people I had enough sense to wear a change of clothes underneath because it’s not as comically unsexy as asking a guy to dance in a peanut suit, but shapeless all-black “Trick or Treat!” tee and gauchos is more like two steps backwards. I didn’t actually start wearing jeans until maybe two years later and was weirdly fond of ugly mono-color outfits. More importantly however, I wanted to attract men with my gauchos. Gauchos, I tell you! (They had rhinestones on them.)

We could never afford penguins at our middle school dances.

Picture the scene. Eager parents and that seventh grade geography teacher no one likes flank the dusty gym, mentally squeezing a Jesus between each pair of horny twelve-year-olds. School tech junkie Rodger attempts unsuccessfully to scramble onto the stage and usurp the DJ stand. Nary a student dances in any conceivable form, excepting the zombie hobble, some of the moves to Crank Dat, and a nonstop shuffling/bouncing en masse at the center, like a layer of scum and dead fish drifting ashore without rhythm in the wake of an oil spill.

There I lurked, feigning aloofness and waiting out the duration of Baby Got Back (for aliens playing along at home, this is a grueling, endless Earth song about butts) for a slow tune at which sign I would appear before Jack, romantically, in my gauchos.

Eventually one came on. I have no recollection of what it was; for all I know it was just Baby Got Back again but I was desperate. Jack stood at the back of the gym, not doing anything. That’s what you did at those kinds of dances, not anything. Dan, vaguely somewhere inside his conversation circle, noticed me and flashed a helpful thumbs up. In the opening bars I strutted up to Jack with the romantic finesse of a tiny, upside-down boat.

“Wanna dance?” I said like someone’s dad in the 1950’s.

He froze, contemplated this — during which time the dial-up modem sound could be heard issuing from his frontal lobe — and formulated an answer. A blink.

“No,” he said baldly, and went back to doing nothing.

I withered. “Oh, ok.” I wandered off, on the pretense I had other, cooler things to do, like crying, and wearing gauchos. Dan confronted me as I left.

“Don’t worry about him. He’s an asshole,” he said. They probably had a bro-to-bro conversation after this, during which — if I might speculate, in my more articulate speech, with authentic bro words added for authenticity — Dan might have said, “You could have at least humored her, dude! Or said something else instead of just ‘no!’ Dudely bro football,” and Jack might have responded, “Dude, dog, bro, she is the living embodiment of a potato,” a description with which I could not disagree!

There was always an after party, no less than eight times better than the actual dance. All the various girls of our C- social tier would be there, a decidedly wacky bunch, to discuss all the nothing that had happened. We always hoped boys would come, but who the hell handled the guest list, anyway? Our moms? I shut myself up in a room and cried. I was proud, despite everything. I did not break down at the dance and run to the girls bathroom in tears, another thing that was popular to do at the time, though now I almost wish I did, since it feels like I missed some feminine rite of passage. I never even attended one of those bathroom stall pow-wows. I steered clear of any and all group drama so I could sip tea smugly with my friends’ moms and silently command them to invite boys to those parties.

Our co-ed table split up shortly after because it goes against the natural American laws of physics to feel that excited for lunch hour.

✽ ✽ ✽

Riza Penguineye.

The sexuality of 12-year-old girls is almost oxymoronic. On the one hand, it’s illegal and gross to think about intimate relations with stringy 12-year-old gauchos, but on the other hand they totally do want to be surrounded and adored by hot guys! Easy as it may be to dismiss their male counterparts as pubescent and horny, 12-year-old girls really do want fulfilling and mature relationships that may or may not have any basis in reality.

Seventh grade through freshman year I was not expressly dumb but I was hopeless. I brought Fullmetal Alchemist to school and listened to Hyadain and tried to start conversations about Touhou, couldn’t stomach a dissection and knew all the words to Wicked, which I would sing at intervals in two-part harmony with my friend. While wearing the Popular t-shirt. Is there any better way in the middle school battlefield to make your own bed and lie in it? I might as well have shaved my eyebrows and written “Please shove me into a locker” on my forehead. Thirteen-year-olds are awful and notoriously xenophobic. I found hushed camaraderie in two fellow FMA fans, the designated school bookworm and the designated Girl-Can-Rock cheerleader who, while smart enough not to bring the actual books to school, also probably would have punted anyone who did try to shove her into a locker across the non-existent school football field. But I wasn’t her, and unlike Bookworm McGillicutty I had an unwilling commitment to a very demanding semi-prep, semi-choirgirl social circle.

Said circle’s allowed reading list:

  • Harry Potter
  • The works of Margaret Peterson Haddix

That’s one Homestuck away from the worst collection of literature ever. People of the future, yes, hello! Middle school is the coagulation of so many rotten ideas at once it might as well also take place underwater. It is such an antithesis to the concept of healthy intellectual development my mother modded a book sock so that it was small enough to fit over my Wodehouse paperbacks.

With academic pursuits a no go, we instead spent our time crushing on tall, dark, and trendy Robert, lacking even social grace to space our crushes on rotating shifts. Our large and feminine sortie, most often cleaved in two based on whether your opinion of the Jonas Brothers was passionate or nonchalant, also comprised myriad overlapping triangles shaped like shitty double-ended ball elastics, with the metal clamp as one middleman person and the painful beads two friends who secretly but not subtly hated each other. One said relationship was twisted at each end by someone vying for the affections of Robert, between whom I pretended to be the cool intermediary while also liking Robert. Ha ha ha, gotcha guys!

This guy is well built, with large hands, an anchor-shaped nose, and skin texture that is, in his own words, “smooth as a baby’s ass.” Robert’s an athlete, though mostly a volleyball player, the token school sport that non-athletes like me can sneak into. This athleticism is built into his being; he’s elegant and enthusiastic and confident in his movements even if he did accidentally jump-serve a volleyball straight into my uterus in gym class. If that had been our unborn baby in there it would have died. I’ve learned to ignore bad omens.

Fortunately for fans of erin x robert, at age fourteen I was firmly settled into the musician niche, and also, in that vein, the only other eighth grade cello player, and what better place to admire a young man from afar than at the shared music stand!? I think he really loved the cello. It’s a fantastic instrument. Unfortunately, whatever you think of my musicianship as a whole, I was and am a terrible cello player. I actually radiate infrasound waves that erode string instruments. So while Robert played skillfully in the left chair enjoying the amenities of hands large enough to properly hold the bow of a cello, I played pretendfully in the right chair enjoying the amenities of Robert.

Oh man, this sounds pretty creepy now. Uh… also I was really attractive and had huge boobs, so it was a win-win for everybody!

Really I was just the semi-ironic team composer (surprise), which may perhaps have netted a few intellectual accolades, but is decidedly not a typical hot girl trait. From my understanding, hot girl hobbies are more feminine and place their pheromones smartly at the forefront, like, uh… nail polish… and… Urban Outfitters… and… um, music festivals. I can’t go to music festivals! I hate music! The only time I enjoy listening to anything is when I’m crate-diggin’ royalty free sound effects or accidentally land on SiriusXM’s Backspin!

So I pined away, secretly. The school issued each student a Macbook for the entirety their middle school career, upon which I used to write painstaking and heartfelt fanfiction during science class about Robert on a quest for potatoes or something and ending up in the underworld (it was a 2-parter). I swear to god you guys this wasn’t just random. It was totes character driven and I’m sorry I can’t share it with you all because that hard drive crashed, a devastating loss to the world’s literary collective.

Not everyone kept their creepy, unreciprocated Robert crushes a secret; the middle-aged instructor of our school-sponsored bi-weekly formal dance classes often summoned him as her demonstrational partner, dwindling the pool of dance-able male candidates down to a kid named Zach and one out of three chaperone dads. Not that I blame her — ballroom dancing can, with the right partner, be a one-person sport; if the man knows his pretzel, you need only not trip.

In an act of divine mercy Robert was free for cha-cha week, which does not even require knowing the intricate circuitry of the pretzel to use as a tool for seduction. Dance lessons were split into two parts with a brief intermission between during which your last manpartner would bring you a cookie. Ah yes. A forced and one-sided date of couple’s cha-cha followed by an off-brand vanilla Oreo. The stars were aligned, and also that week I had acute bronchitis or something.

“Ehechehk! Egh hoff kack!!” I cried to the rhythms of Marc Anthony, shaking my rump like a large, mummified trout clearing its unmentionable throat sacs. Boys from an early age are trained to shoot things that spew ectoplasm while moving in a sensual, Latin manner, but fortunately in those days boys had to leave their .22 rifles in coat check.

Eighth grade graduation was celebrated with a dinner banquet and dance, further extending the gap of extravagance between my middle school and high school graduation festivities by several thousand dollars. As a means of flipping the bird to behavioral psychologists everywhere I decided I would profess my feelings by asking Robert to a slow dance, which I assumed would be provided at the end as, relinquished from our erstwhile custodians, we were now free to indulge in the sexual and recreational liberties which had been theretofore unknown to us, and partake in great ninth grade orgies.

High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl, or also possibly me doing the electric slide, waited patiently for the inevitable fruits of my endeavors in chastity. However, the DJ, surveying the crowd for a Mr. Peanut costume displayed like an expectant mailbox and finding none, perhaps assumed that no romantic intervention on his part would be necessary, and on the fast songs played.

I asked nobody to dance, and then I went home, and then I died.

✽ ✽ ✽

I like fitness. Cardio does wonders for the self-esteem because you are a winner just for showing up and trying. Not so for other disciplines! Take theatre for example!

My first semester of high school, I was part of a very friendly freshman-sophomore cast doing a series of skits based on the works of O. Henry. This was my introduction to the school’s fairly robust theatre tribe, and by extension my first high school crush, Matt. Matt has a bit of a chipmunk demeanor and often treats the people he likes to a genuine, endless thousand-watt smile. He could usually be found with a can of coke and drove his minivan like he preferred its passengers to travel by air, outside the window.

The only thing I knew about O. Henry beforehand was a story of his which appeared on a state exam about two men waiting for someone that wasn’t Godot, so I didn’t really get it. The cast was set before roles were even decided, and so on the day they were handed out I waited calmly to be selected as some southern belle or lovable bandit or even just a female, but because not everybody was on the same page, I was assigned the role of Pike Garvey. Pike Garvey wears bulky wool gingham, a slapdash haircut, and pretend face dirt to look particularly greasy; Pike Garvey talks in a drawl needlessly and fictitiously dependent on the heavy arrrrr sound. Pike Garvey, in the good Henry’s own words, has “unwinking round eyes without lashes” — but I love winking! — and a “gruesome visage” and a “too long” yellow face and “fangs,” and is a squirrel hunter. My ears did a double take.

But that’s fine! Growing up as the tall friend meant a childhood of acting out the man in show choir dance routines and the dad whenever you played house (a finessed role which required reading the newspaper and saying “Go ask your mother!” a lot). Just because this was a co-ed cast didn’t mean I should be upset I was cast 1) as a male 2) in the only non-comedic skit 3) as the villain from The Hills Have Eyes.

Oh, also Matt was in my same skit. Nevermind, I was mad.

“Can you try to sound more like, uhh, a bear?” the director asked.

“No,” I said, “because I am a woman.” Not unlike a small bird putting on a mating display, I hunched my shoulders, spread my arms out, and lumbered about like my voice was half an octave deeper than it actually was. To this day I have not solved the puzzle of how to play a man five times my age and twice my girth, having since been headscratchingly cast also as Officer Krupke and Yertle the Turtle. Yertle the Turtle is a bass part. A bass is a part a man sings, with his larynx, the larynx of or belonging to a man, which I am not.

My friend playing opposite as me the other, non-hillbilly woman-as-man was also taller than me, to further water down the charade.

Moreover, for the last forty years, clever wordplay has been established in America as bad puns and raps about fire safety; thus O. Henry, even in condensed stage format, requires a bit too much processing power for the layperson to understand without close scrutiny, and teenagers in ten-gallon hats reciting his work for over an hour is a bit of a crapshoot.

It snowed. We risked bruises clambering the ice around town in a series of cast bonding rituals which could lead anywhere from a trip to the wholesale shop trying out ill-conceived cockroach killers to forking over several more twenties than expected to cover a “surprise pizza bill.”

The cast party at the end of it all was to be held at la Casa de Matt (that’s “Matt’s bungalow” for those of you who don’t speak Japanese). Arranged on the stage’s side stairs, we held out the last notes of the closing number impatiently, Matt in his steady bass and I in a warbling uh… I guess it can’t be called a soprano anymore — my uh, bear voice, ready to bust out of there, briefly gather congratulations from those of our adoring fanbase still alive after an intense and unending O’Henrython and party like it was 1999.

According to many established people who recite Psych 101 facts unsolicited, close proximity to the color red can make a woman seem more attractive, and there began and ended my full-proof plan of seduction: wearing red (but not gauchos).

“Let the night of terror begin!” I cried red and rad, bursting into the Matthew stronghold on a skateboard and politely leaving my shoes by the door before ollying down the stairs, leaving in my wake a set of parents thoroughly astounded and seduced by my splendor.

The recreational reprieve of the basement saw not an open seat nor an empty spot at the ping-pong table. They say the roads of that city were paved with golden pizza. “Hip-hop,” I slanged, waving at friends old and new alike, estranged or keenly attuned to thrums of the wire of all social life. I positioned myself on the floor in front of the large TV, carefully staging my next initiative (I had been stuck for a while after the brilliant conception of “WEAR RED”).

Monica crossed to me and sat down on her haunches, looking apologetic, as one might look apologetic upon discovering sidewalk roadkill. She chose her words carefully.

“So, uh… Matt asked me out? Sorry?” The missing part here was “and I said yes” and “I have achieved boyfriend in just one semester of high school hahahahahahaha.” I don’t think that relationship turned out well. They did not understand I am supposed to be the underdog in this story.

I grabbed my coat and ditched the joint, taking the bus route to the local cineplex. Since I hadn’t brought my wallet, I snuck into the first open theater, empty save for a band of young men in the middle row wearing matching sport coats, and watched an R-rated film. Before I could hop out at the film’s close, one of the men under cover of darkness grabbed my arm and informed me that this was not actually a real movie, but an info briefing exclusive to the new members of this clandestine all-male organization of government agents, and during this monologue the other men had closed in and had me surrounded in a tight circle. They explained that, since I was now privy to classified information, I’d have to undergo training and be inducted as the first female member of the Seelie Court. It was a bit unorthodox, but desperate times call for desperate measures. They told me, as I was ushered down the steps and through an emergency exit into the empty expanse of a December night cinema parking lot, that I’d be working under a man called Spring Heeled Jack, famously short-fused, and to be cautious around him especially. There I was in the back of a sleek Porsche under a pale, hungry moon, sidled between two agents, and I could tell from the bulk of their sheer muscle that these men led daytime careers as male porn stars as a manner of subterfuge.

That was a joke.

I am sad.

✽ ✽ ✽

For the first month of junior year I was in rehearsals for our school’s annual, surprisingly popular improvaganza. This was the first year I had made the cut and while I wasn’t a top rung improver by any means the cast was made up of attractive boys and girls who liked said attractive boys, making the show a delightful if also frustrating experience. I was sandwiched in the back seat of many a campus carpool, Taco Bell run, and Taco-Bell-run-campus-carpool in more ways than you can spell ★ INFERIORITY COMPLEX ★ !

Still! Boys were finally taller than me! They told me I smelled nice! They did the performing arts and not sports and they liked people with vaginas! The world was my oyster. I readied the Mr. Peanut suit. I would ready the Mr. Peanut suit but only after the third date.

Of these new dashing musketeers, one Alex still holds a place in my heart. There are a lot of things in my heart, namely blood, so it might be a one-bedroom flat, but that’s still a place. Oh Alex. Alex wasn’t cute, Alex wasn’t handsome, Alex was beautiful, and he was vaguely familiar with Team Fortress 2, which are two of my required husband traits. Greek boy, well built. Ears stick out, but face made of all the best features from your basic build-a-human catalog. Alex exudes a unique and individualist type of masculinity. He’s got these soft, kissable lips and gentle blue eyes I could make a bad simile about. I don’t even like blue eyes! I like Alex’s blue eyes. This along with the angle of his eyebrows and the occasional cigar loaned him a very suave expression, and halfway through the year he got glasses probably just to spite me, because you know how much I adore guys with glasses.

(… It’s a lot. I like them a lot.)

As an unspoken world rule, like the logic of dreams, there was no chance for me. I wasn’t the quirky brunette able to cash in her single lifestyle karma like Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza tokens in exchange for the hot captain of the football team (err… Greek Club?). I was more like the too-tall background character mentioned once briefly in a YA novel.

Alex liked cooking, tea, chemistry (not the romance kind — bummer), and dancing, which were all interests I also liked without pretending. Alright, so I’m terrible at half of those things, but at least I liked them. “You’ll be sorry you missed out on this!” I messaged him between bites of surprisingly-not-terrible mousse I had made out of a pumpkin puree can salvaged from the back of our pantry probably dating well before the second World War. He had declined, or rather excused his way out several times of the wonderful shared-interest appointment I had planned. Shared! Interest! I try to hide my fangs and tentacles for a human boy one day in my life — you’d think the guy would throw me a proverbial and/or euphemistic bone.

I was frustrated and I said I liked him after one of the shows because first my intentions over the past month had been dripping with it and second I had more important things to move onto, like English class.

Alex had known. He didn’t much care for the idea of tonsil hockey and that was that. He went away and got glasses and I stopped feeling that joy which had been so unusual. Actually, that sounded way too edgy. Instead, I’ll say I am better than him at air hockey.

I encountered him again one day a year later, when he had wandered back for a nostalgic visit to the old grades 9-12, that is to say to the AP Chemistry classroom where I was, because I like chemistry as I said and that wasn’t just a dumb thing I made up. A dumb hobby I made up would be me practicing soccer all the time in seventh grade so Jack wouldn’t think I was such a loser. The irony is not lost on me.

“Wellgoddamitshitsahoyffffcatnoises,” I sputtered, shuffling a mass of old AP notes from all classes to be recycled so I could have my supplies in order by the final bell and quietly slide out the door. Incidentally because I had a lot of garbage on hand this involved crossing the room multiple times to the recycling bin. I would make my way innocuously then to after-school rehearsal for the school musical.

One of my AP notes

“Oh my gosh, ERIN,” he said like a mini-sentry that gives hugs instead of missiles. Wow college fun. Hug. Dyed your hair Nice. Hug. Aside to chemistry teacher who does not want to be involved, something else I don’t remember. I kept my responses, I hope, on the same channel as that programmed for “second aunt you are meeting for the first time who wishes to catch up on several years of lost family intimacy.” Then I slipped out like a mouse.

The year after that, he messaged me and said, “You are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever told you that and I felt you should know.”

Oh! …Oh, I mused with mild delight. ¡¿¡¿QUÉ?!?! There it is. The proverbial and/or euphemistic bone! People often realize I’m right and/or attractive a few years after the fact. I guess good things do happen to nice people after all. I waited for the studio audience to politely chuckle and the screen to iris out before getting back to researching online copyright law classes. I sent a Pusheen heart sticker, a classic choice for ensuring the tone of the conversation remains cordial and yet intentionally tremendously vague.

Truly, this was not meant as I had assumed as a means of cursory re-connection, but as an epitaph carved into the edifice of our non-existent friendship, to wax poetic, or to wax regular it was a prelude to never speaking to me again as he unfriended me on Facebook. Like a gesture. A definitive thing.

Native English speakers may point out that a semi-contrite pickup line is not typically used as such a prelude. That’s fine. (That’s not fine.) That means I can do cathartic things like not wear a bra while eating yogurt or responding to possibly drunken Facebook messages with an impassioned yet sardonic 5000-word essay on the internet. your move alex

Alex was best friends with Jeremy. These two comprised the dynamite duo of handing your own heart to you on a platter and making you eat it. Each one of them holds a conversation like they’re running for president. They smoke cigars, wear fine clothes, and dabble in philosophy. There’s vacation pictures of the places they’ve been together, photo after photo all looking like something cut out of a magazine that you’d paste your own face on to pretend you visited the Empire State Building with Abercrombie models. But instead there’s just an empty space where your not-as-attractive face should be. It’s just not fair.

These were the kind of boys who touched you on the elbow when they spoke to you, and their departure from a room was usually followed by the exchange of several winks with the nearest girlfriend. I made them both pastries because that’s what I do when I would like pretty boys to graciously overlook my personality. Songwriting is a little too soul-baring and excessively time-consuming, but don’t think I didn’t try.

Jeremy himself is an enigma. I first saw Jeremy in a student-directed play festival, the duration of which I was mostly distracted by his fantastic jaw. He took me out to dinner once, randomly; I thought it might have been a psychological screening, like a job interview, for future friend or, dare I venture, girlfriend candidates. If it was, I failed. I’m a sort of person best viewed through a pinhole camera; I’m wrong. I’m cynical! Jeremy believes the world gravitates towards a central goodness, some sort of backwards entropy rooted profoundly in the religion of optimism. “A squirrel,” he tells me, “buries a nut out of its own self-interest. But if the squirrel forgets about it, that buried nut contributes positively to the world because it grows into a tree.”

Jeremy is the kind of person you’d want to surprise with breakfast. He’s inexplicably and irrevocably personable and, at least on the surface, at peace with himself. The insecurities he expresses as he drives me home are so non-threatening it’s like a puppy wandered into an AA meeting. “I was born with too much cartilage in my nose.” Oh. Well sometimes I hate everything that breathes. My life is the Lucky Charms to his heart-healthy something with whole grain, and yet he’d still be happy no matter which you chose to serve him at surprise breakfast. His hair is longer now, like a Jesus in H&M threads with a fantastic jaw. And he was born with too much cartilage in his nose. I don’t know what to say to that.

“In middle school, Alex and I weren’t popular.” Jeremy, I can’t even get a man to look at me!

✽ ✽ ✽

So that’s my story of how femininity continues to allude me. CRY. Oh, wait, there was also Dante. I don’t know if I was quite crushing on Dante, but he sure was a dreamboat. I made him cupcakes! I wrote on a note card that he was cute and drew a whale on it to emphasize my point. He did not care for it so much. Dante’s an Italian football player, a description I put in italics to express that it should probably be self-sufficient. Wait, sorry, he’s an Italian football player with glasses. Only a compilation of Gordon Ramsay’s expletives could serve as reaction here where words finally fail me.